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Jakarta, Nov 21:The 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) wants India to join Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) for greater market access among partners.

Member nations of the regional grouping ASEAN include Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

Speaking to visiting Indian media delegation here, ASEAN Secretary-General Dr. Kao Kim Hourn said that all the partners stand to gain from inclusive, open and rule-based trade pact.

He noted that joining RCEP would benefit India as it will provide greater market access and so would other countries as trade deals are reciprocal.

India had in 2019 pulled out of China-led RCEP maintaining that the decision was taken in the interest of the local industry and the nation. An official statement had then said that the pact’s structure did not address the concerns of India.

RCEP is a free trade agreement between the ASEAN member states and five other countries namely Australia, China, Japan, South Korea, and New Zealand. It is one of the world’s largest Free Trade Agreements (FTA) comprising about 30% of global GDP and about a third of the world’s population.

Emphasising the need for enhanced air-connectivity between India and ASEAN nations, Dr Kao called for liberal aviation pact that would facilitate more direct flights between the two sides.

He highlighted that the tourism sector had rebounded after Covid pandemic and cited the example of the increase in Indian tourists visiting the popular Indonesian destination Bali.

The ASEAN Secretary General stated that India and ASEAN have been working together across various sectors and called for expanding cooperation in other areas as well. He informed that the review of India-ASEAN free trade pact is in progress.

He noted the huge trade and investment potential between India and ASEAN highlighting the population size of the two sides. Suggesting the enormous market size he said that while India has 1.4 billion people, the ASEAN region is home to 680 million people.

It is estimated that bilateral trade between India and ASEAN was US$ 131.5 billion in the financial year 2022-23. The trade with ASEAN accounted for 11.3% of India’s global trade in FY23.

“We stand to benefit from partnership between us and India. At the moment, we have many mechanisms of cooperation between us and India,” the ASEAN Secretary General said while mentioning various areas of cooperation such as digital economy, sustainability and energy sector.

Recalling Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Jakarta in September this year to attend the ASEAN summit, he said that the grouping accords high value to its partnership with India.

He said that the fact that the leaders of the two sides at high level are able to meet frequently means that the two sides have shared interests.

Underlining the need for dialogue to resolve conflicts, Dr. Kao said that ASEAN has always advocated constructive engagement, dialogue and consultation.

Responding to a question on ongoing conflicts in Europe and Middle East, he said that it is hoped that the United Nations (UN) will play a constructive role towards resolving them.

“We believe the UN has the means and, of course, the commitment to work towards resolution of conflict particularly when we see human tragedy unfolding before us…,” Dr. Kao said.

During the interaction with the Indian media delegation, he shared his views on the contributions of ASEAN-India dialogue relations to ASEAN’s community-building efforts and underscored the important role of media in encouraging greater cooperation between ASEAN and India, especially in the areas of cultural exchanges, connectivity and people-to-people ties, among others.